GM expands ignition-switch recall


GM is recalling 2.4 million cars to fix the flawed switches, which the company has linked to 12 deaths. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg)

General Motors on Friday dramatically expanded its recall of Chevrolet Cobalts and five other small vehicles to search for faulty ignition switches that may have previously been used to repair some of the cars.

The company’s move means that it is recalling 2.6 million cars to fix the flawed switches, which it has linked to 12 deaths.

GM, which is under pressure from federal and congressional investigations as well as a growing number of lawsuits, said the expanded recall — which added 971,000 vehicles worldwide, including 824,000 in the United States — is aimed at retrieving just 5,000 ignition switches that could have been used to repair Cobalts and other small cars not included in the previous recall.

The company said that about 95,000 faulty switches were sold to aftermarket wholesalers and dealers, and 5,000 of those were used to make repairs in new cars not included in the previous recall.

The recall includes all model years of GM’s Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice, and Saturn Ion and Sky.

Laura Christian, whose daughter was killed when her airbag did not deploy, talks about why she is suing the automaker, and what she hopes to tell CEO Mary Barra. (Reuters)

“GM is unaware of any reports of fatalities with this [new] group of vehicles” where defective switches were to blame, the company said in a statement.

The new recall comes as GM is recalling 1.6 million older model vehicles to repair switches that could be accidently turned off if they are jostled or attached to a heavy key ring. When the switch turns off, the car loses power brakes and steering, and its air bags are disabled.

GM has told owners of the vehicles to remove everything but the car key from their rings when driving until a new ignition switch can be installed. The company also has instructed dealers that it would pay for loaner vehicles or rentals for owners who do not want to drive their recalled cars until they are repaired.

The company has said that dealers should receive replacement parts for the original recall by April 7.

GM is under scrutiny because it knew about the deadly ignition-switch problem for more than a decade before issuing its initial recall. Early on, the company had proposed redesigning the ignition switch or adding an insert to address the problem but later decided against it, according to documents the company filed with federal safety regulators.

The company has apologized repeatedly for the delay in issuing a recall, saying it struggled to pinpoint the problem.

The slow recall has also put the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under fire for not detecting the problem and ordering a recall. NHTSA has said that it, too, struggled to find the problem despite opening three special probes of accidents linked to the flawed switch.

Earlier Friday, GM confirmed that it has sent notices to dealers telling them to stop delivering to customers 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze compacts with 1.4-liter engines. The company offered no explanation for the order.

Also this month, GM announced the recall of more than 1.5 million vehicles to address brake parts, air-bag wiring and other parts in several models. The company has appointed a top executive to oversee safety issues.

“We are taking no chances with safety,” GM chief executive Mary T. Barra said in a statement Friday. “Trying to locate several thousand switches in a population of 2.2 million vehicles and distributed to thousands of retailers isn’t practical. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years.”

Automobile safety advocates called the rash of GM recalls a direct result of the attention being focused on GM for its original response to the ignition-switch problem.

“What is so interesting to me is what the pressure of the public spotlight and the possibility of criminal penalties have done to force this company to behave,” said Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator.

Michael A. Fletcher is a national economics correspondent, writing about unemployment, state and municipal debt, the evolving job market and the auto industry.
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